A showcase on voter advocacy and Black Lives Matter
~Taylor Vigil, Photography Editor~
~Ashley McMillan, Arts and Entertainment Editor~
The Undisputed Upsilon Beta chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc.’s 8th Annual Stroll to the Polls event looked a little bit different this year due to COVID-19 regulations and precautions, but did not fail to disappoint. With the theme of Black Lives Matter, hosts Michael Bush, ‘22, and Travis Bartee, ‘22, led the night’s livestream event consisting of guest speakers, dance, spoken word, and the overarching call to action to go vote.
The annual Stroll to the Polls event was live streamed on Youtube, and each contender showcased a video they personally produced beforehand to showcase in the event. Each video was beautifully and professionally put together for the event. Each contender’s artistic direction reflected the significance of the Black Lives Matter movement, whether it be through a poem, dance, monologue, or a little mix of everything. Spoken word was used more to exhibit a group’s vision of why Black Lives Matter should not be reckoned with, nor forgotten about. Regardless of the artistic direction or significance behind a video, the primary reason this event is showcased year after year is so that there’s an initiated conversation of voter advocacy and awareness in the Newport News community. For this year, as the 2020 election came to a close, Stroll to the Polls was more important than ever.
As each video came onto the live stream, in between the performances were participants who educated everyone on the significance of voter impact. John Echols, a Christopher Newport Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. Alum who graduated in 2016, was invited to the event to speak on voter advocacy. Echols was one of the brothers who created the first Stroll, which was first exhibited in Gaine’s Theatre. The event since then has gained attraction, and moved on to the Ferguson Theater in the years following due to the enormous presence it has created in the Newport News community. Beyond this, Cleon Long, a Newport News native, spoke about the importance of voting, how to vote, and why he ran for city counsel. Long discussed that due to his passion for voter education, he wanted to enact change in his community, and throughout his speech emphasized the importance of voting and how we can all create change at the local level.
Voter advocacy is much more than what is seen at the surface level; there is history back rooted into our society’s government that needs to be broken. Cam Bertrand, another speaker for Stroll to the Polls, works with grassroots programs and protests against systemic racism, and further discussed on the topic of violence intervention and prevention, and furthermore, why we all need to hold elected officials accountable, speak out against injustice, and create change in our governance. Elected officials have a government position that needs to be utilized for the common good, though understanding the historical background of our systemic racism is key to bringing real change for marginalized communities.
The event that not only brings attention to the deep-rooted racism in our governance, and why vote turn-out is how we can bring justice to our oppressed communities, but it also allows organizations on campus to present an artistic piece on the very event’s purpose. These presentations were brought by Christopher Newport’s Delta Gamma, Alpha Sigma Alpha, Christopher Newport’s Men’s and Women’s Basketball Teams, Latino Student Association (LSA), and Gamma Phi Beta.
- The first organization that was up was Delta Gamma: the sorority performed a poem that emphasized the true nature behind the Black Lives Matter movement, and the following sub-topics that connect to the movement’s significance: police brutality, gerrymandering, and voter suppression. Each member wore Human Heart Apparel shirts throughout their performance in order to showcase their determination to fight inequality, a symbol of unity and acceptance.
- The second organization that was up was Alpha Sigma Alpha: the sorority focused their submission on civic engagement, by making it concerned with voting information. Additionally, the video aimed to help Christopher Newport students learn how to vote properly, while also intertwining the significance of the Black Lives Matter movement into their narrative.
- The third organization up was Christopher Newport’s Men’s and Women’s Basketball Teams; their video was organized by a spoken word that focused on the importance of voting, and why members of our community need to be actively involved in order to bring light to the heavy voter suppression and how minorities are oppressed within our very local area. Throughout the video, the basketball members spoke about their involvement with basketball, and how they use their platform to enact change in their communities, whether it be through volunteering, voting, or speaking up for what’s right.
- The LSA presented a dance titled “Deep in our Roots,” which emphasized the connection between their latin heritage to their african roots: the cultural and historical connection they showcased is called Afro-latino, or Black Latin American. The production they streamed commented how Black culture touches many aspects of our lives, even when we may not realize it. Not only did the dance speak proud about this connection of two cultures, but also initiated a heavy conversation on the importance of voting and why we should all fight for equality in our governance.
- And last but not least, Gamma Phi Beta, the former two time winner of Stroll to the Polls, performed a dance to the song “I Can’t Breathe” by Her. Throughout this song, they danced and rhythmically held up protest signs, touching on the Black Lives Matter movement and how community members can vote.
Between performances, a panel of three judges provided feedback to the various groups on their performances and contributions to the evening’s message on Black Lives Matter and the importance of voting. This year’s judges included Dr. Angela Spranger, a professor of management in the Luter School of Business and a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority; senior Elissa Mena, a member of Omicron Tau chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority; and Christopher Newport The Undisputed Upsilon Beta chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. 2011 alumnus Chris Ables-Sincliar.
Before opening the online voting system, the hosts for the evening took a moment to speak about the Undisputed Upsilon Beta chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc.’s partnership with the Community Captains program at CNU. The Community Captains program is a partnership between Newport News Public Schools and Christopher Newport University that aims to help high school students succeed after graduation by preparing them for college and beyond. The brothers of the Undisputed Upsilon Beta chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., along with the other participants of the Stroll to the Polls competition, raised over $1,000 for the Community Captains scholarship through a raffle, social media challenge, and second fundraising challenge. This year’s winners of the fundraising challenges were Delta Gamma Sorority, social media challenge, and LSA, second fundraising challenge.
The events festivities concluded with a heartfelt speech by host Travis Bartee, ‘22, while the votes were counted. Bartee spoke on the impacts of the events of 2020 on our understanding of the world as a whole. He reminded viewers of the power of their voices to create change in this nation, and how amazing of an opportunity it is to be afforded that power. “If you want to make a difference,” Barteen remarked, “then vote”.
This statement not only symbolizes the power of voting in events as such, but also how impactful voting can be for our society. By the night’s end, the Latino Student Association won the first place title in the Stroll competition, followed by Gamma Phi Beta in second place and Delta Gamma in third.